The vessel’s engineer raised the alarm after it’s believed he was washed off the Zambucca by a wave. Amazingly, he was then able to make the 700 metre journey from the reef to the shore in darkness just after 1am, repeatedly shouting out “Hey!” to attract attention.
Residents contacted the police who then mounted a rescue effort for the four other crew members, from Fiji and Tuvalu, not sure if they were still aboard the Zambucca.
Police immediately launched their search and rescue Zodiac Lady Kai, which reached the point off the reef where the stranded longliner was aground after 2am, while other police officers made their way across the lagoon on foot and in a kayak, to reach the vessel.
Waves from a strong easterly wind swell initially prevented the officers in the lagoon from boarding the vessel, and as the other crew members were safe aboard, it was decided to wait until the approaching low tide when officers assisted three crew members off the Zambucca at 4.40am. They reached shore about 5.15am.
The FV Zambucca is owned by Ocean Fresh Ltd and its managing director Bill Doherty yesterday afternoon was too busy to be interviewed, as he and his team made preparations for today’s attempt to get the longliner off the reef.
Two years ago, on January 19, 2016 the Zambucca’s sister ship the Wairau was stranded on the reef at Betela. It was freed two days later by the combined use of heavy machinery on the reef, and the police patrol boat Te Kukupa and a Cook Islands Towage tugboat.
A 36 tonne digger was transported to a vacant section at Aroko yesterday and it’s believed another will join it and head to the reef this morning at low tide, ready to hopefully nudge the fibreglass-hulled vessel back into the ocean as it is pulled by one of more large tugs from the ocean, possibly around high tide. Low tide today is around 8.30am and high around 3pm.
It’s understood the aronga mana requested that no heavy machinery enter the lagoon on Sunday.
Doherty and his team on the reef led by James Atera, put up a valiant effort to free the stranded Zambucca on Saturday.
From early morning the team removed oil and fuel from the Zambucca into 44 gallon drums, salvaged equipment and supplies aboard, and removed rope and line that had entangled the boat’s propeller.
Many assisted the effort, including the 499 tonne heavy load carrier the Layar Mas 291, which attempted to pull the Zambucca off the reef after a line was taken to it from the fishing charter vessel Vision, which worked with a jetski operator to get a line to the Zambucca.
Unfortunately, after making a number of dangerous trips across the reef the jetski rider was flipped by a huge wave and the rider was assisted ashore with a suspected broken collarbone.
- Lawrance Bailey